How Rising UV Levels Impact Homes & Construction Materials

Sunlight above the trees emitting UV light damaging to homes.

Most people are all too familiar with the pain of a sunburn after a long day outside. However, not as many people realize that their houses can also be damaged by the sun. 

Ultraviolet (UV) wavelengths can penetrate solid surfaces, significantly damaging most materials that receive overabundant exposure. UV light exists outside of the visible spectrum for humans, but the effects are easy to see.

The adverse effects of increased UV exposure are most prevalent in non-equatorial regions where plants, animals, humans, and inorganic structures are not adequately prepared.

Many American homes and buildings have not been developed to withstand increased levels of UV exposure. As a result, homeowners are seeing reduced longevity in many aspects of their houses. Increased awareness of UV’s impact on buildings and houses along with recent advances in UV-resistant building materials can allow homeowners to limit costly repairs required on the most UV-sensitive aspects of their properties. 

How UV Subtypes Behave & Affect Construction Materials

When discussing the impact of UV rays on homes, it is important to understand the difference between UV-A and UV-B waves.

UV-A radiation accounts for 95% of the UV radiation that reaches the earth. UV-A light waves are longer than UV-B, meaning they have less energy.

UV-B radiation is more intense but less prevalent in the atmosphere, comprising the other 5% of UV light. UV-B rays increased intensity is due to their shorter wavelengths.

Intuitively, some might assume that the higher-energy UV-B rays can more effectively penetrate solid surfaces. However, the longer UV-A rays are able to reach deeper layers of human skin, penetrate glass, and damage a variety of frequently used construction materials.

What Parts of the House Do UV Rays Damage?

UV rays can damage any part of the house that they access for long periods. The home’s exterior is therefore vulnerable to both types of UV light. Windows sufficiently protect interior areas of the home from UV-B light; studies suggest that using glass as a barrier against UV-B is completely effective

UV-A rays, on the other hand, can pass through untreated windows with relative ease. UV-A rays are generally considered to be less destructive than UV-B rays. Extensive research on the effect of UV rays on human skin shows that, while excessive UV-A exposure isn’t as harmful as UV-B, the rays can still damage skin and force premature aging.

The same logic can be applied to UV’s impact on areas of the home. While UV-A rays aren’t as destructive as UV-B, their unmitigated access to the home’s interior can have noticeable effects in just a few days.

Here are the parts of the home that are most likely to receive extended UV exposure.

Roof

The roof is one of the most exposed areas of the home and can be one of the most expensive areas to replace, even without accounting for the associated consequences of a UV-damaged roof.

Roofing shingles are generally made from asphalt, an oily material that will become evaporated and crumbly when damaged by UV radiation.  

Partial roof repairs cost as much as $5,000 whereas full roof repairs often cost more than $10,000.

Exterior Paint

Exterior paint is also susceptible to UV radiation. The damage caused by the sun’s rays will largely depend on the type of paint and the quality of its resin.

Paint resins are typically manufactured using polymers that react when exposed to UV rays. These reactions rupture the bonds within the polymers resulting in fading colors or chipping paint.

Paints advertised as UV-resistant will include higher quality polymers that can withstand greater exposure before deteriorating.

Leather Furniture

Leather furniture will suffer under the sun’s UV rays if it’s left next to an untreated window. 

Leather is made from animal skin that has been treated with a variety of chemicals. These chemicals help preserve the oils applied to the leather to keep it a comfortable texture and a desirable color.

Leather furniture placed near a window is likely to become faded, dried out, or cracked as a result of prolonged exposure to UV-A Rays.

Photographs

Photographs are especially susceptible to the fading effects of UV radiation. The pigments used in photographs are designed to absorb light, and over time, these pigments will slowly break down when exposed to sunlight.

To prevent photographs from becoming faded, it is important to keep them out of direct sunlight or to display them in a frame with UV-resistant glass.

Homeowners Need to Balance UV Exposure Levels

While extensive UV exposure has several adverse effects on homes and construction materials, it’s important to note that UV light is not inherently bad. Moderate exposure to UV light incentivizes many necessary biological functions, so owners should not strive to eliminate all UV exposure to their homes. Rather, they should increase their awareness of the consequences of overexposure and take cost-effective steps to promote optimal UV levels in and around their houses.

Controbuting Author: Greg Smith, RE/MAX Alliance of Boulder

Greg Smith is the leader of RE/MAX Alliance of Boulder. Conducting hundreds of real estate transactions in a high-altitude area has made Greg keenly aware of the effects of increasing UV levels and the subsequent impact on homes and construction materials.

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